Syrian rebels said on Wednesday they will target the regime's intelligence apparatus in Aleppo, as President Bashar al-Assad hailed the "heroic" army in its battle against the opposition.
A top UN official confirmed that the military has used fighter jets to fire on Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, as clashes also erupted near two traditional Christian districts of Damascus in the nearly 17-month uprising, a watchdog said.
The rebels, boosted after seizing three police stations in Aleppo on Tuesday, say they will now turn their sights on the city's intelligence apparatus.
Rebel leader Ferzat Abdel Nasser called the takeovers of the police centres in Bab al-Nayrab, the southern district of Salhin and in Hanano "a small victory that is good for morale."
"But the most important thing is to take over the intelligence branches," said the general, who deserted from the army a month ago. "If these sites fall, victory is possible."
The conflict in Aleppo has raged since July 20, with both regime troops and rebels sending reinforcements for a battle that one Syrian security source predicted was likely to last for weeks.
Assad, in a speech published by official news agency SANA marking the military's 67th anniversary, said that the army was engaged in a vital fight.
"The army is engaged in a crucial and heroic battle... on which the destiny of the nation and its people rests," he said, calling the military "the backbone of the motherland."
"The enemy is among us today, using agents to destabilise the country, the security of its citizens... and continues to exhaust our economic and scientific resources," Assad said.
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) Military Council's Aleppo chief Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi said that "we have thousands of fighters" in Aleppo.
A Syrian security source has estimated that there are around 4,000 rebels in the city.
"The regime says it is fighting 'terrorist groups.' We tell the regime that we will chase them because they are the terrorists," Oqaidi told AFP.
"We will go after them in the whole of Aleppo, until the city is liberated."
Regime forces have for several days pounded a number of rebel-held districts in Aleppo, but made little progress after rebels resisted the first assault on July 28.
On Wednesday Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, said that the military has used fighter jets against Aleppo.
"Yesterday they (UN observers) saw firing from a fighter aircraft" on the city, said Ghosheh. "They are jets."
Oqaidi said: "The army's morale is at its lowest."
"They know that if they send in tanks next to houses and civilians, they risk higher defections. Soldiers are just waiting for their chance to defect."
There were bombings overnight northwest of Aleppo, and heavy machinegun and Grad rocket fire were also reported.
"The Syrian army is surrounding rebel districts, and is bombing them, but it is going to take its time before it launches its assault on each neighbourhood," the Damascus security source said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting on Tuesday in Aleppo was the fiercest so far in a clash state media has billed as the "mother of all battles."
"Hundreds of rebels attacked the police stations in Salhin and Bab al-Nayrab (neighbourhoods) and at least 40 policemen were killed during the fighting, which lasted for hours," the watchdog's chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
On Tuesday 124 people were killed nationwide -- 35 civilians, 62 soldiers and 27 rebels -- around half of them in Aleppo.
The pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper said that "the army has tightened the noose around the terrorists in the neighbourhoods of Aleppo."
In Damascus, a firefight erupted on the outskirts Bab Tuma and Bab Sharqi, two traditional Christian districts, the Britain-based Observatory said.
"First indications are that one soldier has been killed," it said.
One witness said rebels attacked a military position outside Bab Sharqi at 4:00 am (0100 GMT) in a clash that lasted for 15 minutes.
Amnesty International, meanwhile, accused regime forces of conducting a brutal crackdown in Aleppo.
"The current onslaught on the city of Aleppo -- which puts civilians even more at grave risk -- is a predictable development which follows the disturbing pattern of abuses by state forces across the country," it said in a report.
Activists have posted a video on YouTube purportedly showing FSA members executing regime loyalists in Aleppo.
The victims were from the Al-Berri tribe, which has long supported regime forces in crackdowns on demonstrations in Aleppo, Abdel Rahman said, but added: "This is criminal. This is revenge."
On the political front, veteran dissident Haytham al-Maleh, 81, told reporters he had been tasked with forming a transitional government in exile based in Cairo, adding that he consult "with the opposition inside and outside" Syria.
Maleh, a conservative Muslim, said he was named by a Syrian coalition of "independents with no political affiliation."
But the opposition Syria National Council chief Abdel Basset Sayda told AFP: "We wish it had not happened. It actually weakens the opposition."© ANP/AFP